Recently, a study by the Beijing-based Economic Information Daily found that in many Chinese provinces—such as Jiangxi, Anhui, Sichuan and Hubei—there are few young people to be seen in rural areas. Farmland is mostly cultivated by farmers in their 50s and 60s.
Given that agriculture is of pivotal importance to the national economy, this situation has caused concern. The worries are that, as current farmers age, the younger generation is not learning the skills needed to feed China's massive population.
However, others argue that with the modernization of agriculture and the resulting increase in efficiency, it's natural to see a decline in the number of young farmers, as farm work no longer requires as large a workforce. Efforts should therefore be made to further modernize the country's farmland, so that output can continue to remain stable even if fewer young adults wish to work on farms.
Tong Qijun (China Youth Daily): When making career plans, young people rarely consider the life of a professional farmer, even though they are stronger—both financially and technically—and thus more capable of coping with risks in the agricultural sector such as various natural disasters. In reality, they face a series of issues: irregularities in the transfer of land-use rights; poor infrastructure; and difficulties in applying for loans, among others. As a result, being a farmer in China is a hard job that is disliked by most people in the countryside, not to mention the perception of being one of the most underprivileged groups in society.
If young people all frown on the idea of being career farmers, who can we expect to plant rice for the 1.3 billion Chinese people? At any stage of economic development, the status of agriculture as the basis of all other sectors should never be weakened. Indeed, more attention should be paid to the absence of young people from farm work in rural areas.
Han Yuyin (www.rednet.cn): It's impossible to prevent young people from leaving their villages. Farm work is hard and to be a farmer is not considered a "decent job." In most rural areas, if he comes back to his village to be a farmer after graduating from college, this young person will be looked down upon in the village and his parents will feel ashamed of their son.
Meanwhile, it's undeniable that there are many obstacles that prevent farmers from improving their lot. Chinese farmers own farmland through their collective, often a village committee, which distributes land-use rights to farmer families through fixed-term contracts. Under these contracts, however, it's almost impossible to develop a large-scale, modern agricultural industry. Poor basic infrastructure in most rural areas also contributes to this problem. As a result, being a farmer is among the least-considered choices for a career.
Also, agriculture is too dependent on weather and climate for good harvests, coupled with changes in the market. Farmers in China have to undertake a lot of risks. Due to these dangers, farmers find it difficult to get loans from banks, hindering their development even if they have good plans. As a result, farm work is often left to seniors, as young people prefer to seek a career in cities.
Although we have seen grain harvests year after year, food security remains an important issue. Feeding 1.3 billion people is not an easy job. At a time when an increasing number of young people leave rural areas for cities, the issue should be seen from a strategic perspective.
How can we make farming a respected profession? It's important to improve living conditions in rural areas, so that farmers can have easy access to medical services, education and entertainment. To persuade more young people to become farmers, they should be provided with a broader platform and support to make them feel that farming is a viable career.